Among the legion of artists represented on the Fantasy Records roster Gene Ammons remains one of the most anthologized. Collections of his work abound and a primary reason for this was the prolific pace he set with the Prestige label (one of many now under the Fantasy umbrella) for nearly a quarter century and waxed sessions well into the double digits. Another reason stems the various stylistic suits he wore during his long tenure that make the ideal catalysts for compilation.
This disc, the third in Fantasy’s Gentle Jug series, once again narrows the lens to explore one of Ammons most renowned preoccupations, the art of the ballad. No one could get to the root of a ballad like Jug. His huge, velvety tone was perfectly suited to unbridled romanticism and on the majority of his individual albums he always reserved room for at least a handful of ballad features. Distilling eleven such tracks from eight LPs recorded during the decade of the 1960s this collection illustrates Ammons proficiency with the form perfectly. A wide variety of sidemen join him in the cause and the most common backing instrumentations (perhaps expected given the vintage of these sides) are organ combos, though there are several rhythm sections that favor piano are also included. In each instance the emphasis is on feeling over technical display. Filled with amorous intentions Jug isn’t interested in breaking the door down when he can just as easily gain entry with a gentle knock, a bottle of wine and a bouquet of roses.
Highlights of the collection include gorgeous renderings of standards like “Blue Velvet,” and “Lush Life” along with a pair of tunes featuring Ammons with his long-time friend/bandstand adversary Sonny Stitt. While these latter tracks don’t match the mythology of earlier meetings between the two, it’s still a pleasure to hear the pair wrap their horns around the familiar melodies and squeeze out every drop of emotion. This disc is like that expensive bottle of cognac, uncorked on occasions when the rigors of daily life have frayed the edges of the soul and an instant paregoric is needed to smooth things out.
Personnel: Gene Ammons- tenor saxophone; Sonny Phillips- organ; Bob Bushnell- Fender bass; Bernard Purdie- drums; Clarence